Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
After 20 days of 100+ temps, the August weather greeted me with a crisp fall-like morning. I prayed my usual prayer: “God, just keep me safe.” The long walk to my favorite fishing spot was pleasant with little wind. The river welcomed me with only a few foggy curls but several fishermen. I hiked toward the end of an island and found my favorite place already occupied by a man and his 3 teenage boys. Their canoes full of gear rested high upon the bank. Dad directed his boys on where and how to cast their spinning rods. Two boats full of clients with their guides drifted above the next site. So I stationed myself between the two boats and the canoers.
I tied on a Little Randy, named after a local guide who ties them. I had one take, a small Rainbow stocker, but no other interested parties. Next I reverted to my go-to fly, a Partridge and Orange. Several tiny pecks let me know small fish were intrigued but no hook-ups resulted. Growing frustrated I noticed a lot of surface action and tried a zebra midge with a silver bead and was rewarded with another small Rainbow.
It was time to add tippet and I was hungry. I walked downriver and passed the stringer of the canoers. The fish were in much too shallow water and most were already dead. The guys were gone but I could hear them talking upon the island. One of the boys hid almost lost in tall weeds reading a book unaware of all the activity around him. I stopped to rest on a grassy knoll, cleaned my fingers with a wet wipe, sipped from my small canteen and munched a golden peanut caramel bar. By this time the sunshine stole all the fog away. I absorbed the view from my perch and took a deep breath, grateful to be alive on such a stunning morning. Could life be any more perfect?
A fellow fly fisher stopped to talk. From Louisiana, he spoke in a soft accent and told me that he visited the area usually twice a year and enjoyed fishing when the river was not crowded. “I’m not like some of those guys who say, ‘look at me I’ve caught the biggest fish,’ he said. We spoke a bit longer sharing fly suggestions and stories and then he traipsed on upriver. By this time I was anxious to return to the water. I often struggle with my surgeon’s knot; but after 2 attempts, the new tippet held. I attached a green Anna K with dark wings and hooked it into the small eye near the rod handle as I always do when I finish.
As I stood, I reached for the rod with my right hand. Somehow my momentum created a sliding motion and a sharp bite occurred. My eyes widened as I saw the hook buried in the soft pad underneath my index finger. I quickly sat back down and stared at the problem of my own making. Multiple solutions rampaged through my brain. Should I cut the line, gather my gear, walk back to the car and drive myself to the ER? I tugged gently trying to back the hook out. Don’t faint. But the hook held fast. I pushed the opposite direction hoping maybe I could pull it through. No luck! I began to wonder if I should seek help from my fellow fishers. Whom should I choose? Mr. Louisiana self-centered? How about one of the teenagers or their dad? Dead fish indeed! Did I really want a stranger pulling this fly out? I tried to think rationally. Thank God I‘d just had a tetanus shot 2 months ago! Thank God the hook was barbless!
Deciding to attempt one more withdrawal, I fumbled the forceps into my left hand, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and pulled. Nothing … one more time … much harder. At last the hook came loose in my hand. Relief and gratitude washed through me. I knew I hadn’t accomplished this by myself. My earlier prayer for safety echoed in my mind. I cleaned my bloody finger, wrapped the wet wipe around it and applied pressure. I seriously thought about calling it a day. But the morning was young and I was stubborn. God had given me another chance. Why not use it? There were more fish to be caught and cool weather might not show its face for another month. I applied more pressure, swirled the finger around in the cold river water and began to fish.
The green Anna K outperformed my earlier flies. Sore finger quickly forgotten, I caught fish after fish. Grateful for another opportunity, I fished until heat and hunger forced me back to my car.
On the drive back home, I couldn’t resist calling my choir director friend, Terre, who I knew would be working in her office after staff meeting at our church. As soon as she answered the phone, I began to sing to the tune of the old railroad song.
I’ve been fishin’ on the rivvvv er
All the live-long day.
I ran a hook
up in my finger
And it went in
all the way.
Don’t ya know
I had to get it?
But I pulled it out
in the gravel.
Yelling oh oh oh oh OH!
Of course I took her by such surprise she began interrupting my singing:
“Did you have to have stitches? Are you alright?” And soon the entire story rolled out with multiple questions until I reassured her I was fine.
At our choir picnic the next evening, I sang it again to my alto buddies. What was serious only a day before became another great tale from my fly fishing escapades. But as usual on my adventures, I came away with new bits of knowledge: Always begin each outing with a prayer. Don’t panic. God will provide a solution. Keep your head. Consider your options. Accept God’s second chances.
And never … forget your wet wipes!